Rain Delay Central presents
Christy Mathewson



How Matty
a pitcher

Why we lost
three World's

Why Matty


By Christy Mathewson

From Everybody's Magazine, October 1914

Christy Mathewson Christy Mathewson
I HAVE faced American League teams in four World's Championships. Last fall for the third successive time my team, the New York Giants, was beaten; for the fourth time the National League pennant-winner was beaten. It is significant that New York's lone triumph over an American League pennant-winner was back in 1905.

There has been much discussion in recent years, among players, fans, and National League managers, of this point - why all the World's Championships have been won by the American League. And all this has been caused by the annual failure of the Giants.

When in 1910 the Chicago Cubs lost the world's title, it did not cause more than usual comment. The Cub machine had aged and fallen to pieces. Dismiss that series in a word - "has-beens." But when in 1911 and again in 1912 and 1913 a young and vigorous team like the Giants, a team that had driven roughshod over every club in the National League - when an aggressive combination like ours had seemed almost like a high-school nine beside the American League champions, questions began to be asked. What was the matter? Why did a team that had fought its way to three National League championships invariably blow up in the most important series of the year?

After studying these three World's Championship series - and from the pitcher's box or the bench I watched closely every inning; after considering all the obvious facts; weighing the "inside" stories that naturally I knew, I have come to a definite conclusion.

The Philadelphia Athletics of 1911 and the Boston Red Sox of 1912 were not better ball clubs "on paper" than the Giants. Yet we lost. Between the teams that took the field last fall representing New York and Philadelphia, there was, I admit, a difference in playing strength. Before a game was played the Athletics had the "edge."

I am not making excuses, simply stating facts. The shifts that injuries necessitated in our line-up weakened the Giants. We had all looked upon Snodgrass and Merkle as stars of the series. They had things to retrieve, both of them. I know their temperaments, and they are the kind of men who show at their best under such circumstances. I know that Merkle and Snodgrass could scarcely wait for World Series time to come around. They were fairly itching to right themselves with the fans for certain things that had happened during the Boston Red Sox series the year before. And, as I said, Merkle and Snodgrass are the kind who always "come through."

Consider Merkle's awful predicament after the historic tie game with the Chicago Cubs in 1908 and how he had the stamina and courage to "come through" in spite of it. Consider Snodgrass's $30,000 muff at Fenway Park and how only seconds later he made one of the most sensational catches of the series. Both those men have iron nerve.

Their loss to us at the start of the World's Series was a severe blow. Not only did it deprive us of what I truly believe would have been wonderful exhibitions of baseball in center field and at first base, but through eleventh-hour changes it jarred the machinery of our club.

As a result we did not show the baseball we were capable of. Instead of a walk-over the Athletics should have had a bitter fight; it should have been a toss-up. But the Athletics of 1911 and the Boston Red Sox of 1912 defeated us; and the key to these three World's Championship defeats is the human equation.

In every World's Series except 1905 - and that was different, as I shall show - the Giants blew up. It is a chapter in the "psychology of baseball." Almost without exception every man on our team fell below his standard. Self-consciousness, overanxiety, and nervousness weighed on our shoulders like the Old Man of the Sea.

On the night before the first game last October, a New York newspaper man, one of my best friends, went up to the hotel where the Athletics were staying. Having gone to college with Eddie Collins, he came to pay a personal call; and, not being on business for his paper, he was permitted by Connie Mack to go up to the suite occupied by Collins, Baker, Barry, and Schang. My friend told me that the attitude of the Athletics amazed him. On the eve of a series the winning or losing of which would mean a difference of about $1250 to each of them, their manner was one of indifference. And there was no affectation about that indifference. They did not seem to be aware of the fact, or to care, that the morrow would see them engaged in a series which would mean a difference of nearly $30,000 to their club if they lost.

It was ten o'clock, and "Home Run" Baker, stretching to his feet, yawned abysmally and announced: "I want my sleep."

Baker's only thought was of going to bed and getting breakfast in the morning. He possessed what is known as "cold nerve." Apparently the next day's game meant nothing to him. So it was with Collins - even Schang, the youngster.

About half an hour later my friend went down to a hotel that was the headquarters for the World Series out-of-town fans. He stood around the lobby gossiping baseball, and it was almost midnight when he saw a man whom he thought in bed hours before. It was Herzog, the Giants' third baseman. When my friend came up to him, "Herzie" nervously began to shift his weight from one foot to the other, to fool with his fingernails, and to betray every other sign of acute nervousness.

"Hello, Herzie," said my friend. "I thought you'd be in bed."

Herzog quickly replied, "I'm not a bit sleepy. I could stay up all night."

This little incident shows the difference. The Athletics are a calm, stoical crew, while the Giants happen to be composed of a number of very highly strung, nervous, almost temperamental players. And through the games that followed those who knew these things forecast the outcome. As day by day the tension tightened, the Giants cracked wider and wider, until in the last contest, as a result of sheer nervousness, they showed to total disadvantage.

Now contrast with this the night before the 1905 championship series, when our club beat the Athletics. I am the only one of that 1905 team still with the Giants. As I look back, I recall how those veterans - McGann, Gilbert, Dahlen, and Devlin - the "stonewall infield" - sat in an up-town hotel chatting easily and exuding a spirit of confidence that spread to every member on the team. They were seasoned players long in the game, and their nerve was iron. They were men who had always stood on their own feet, who had learned their baseball in a hard school. While quick to cooperate with Manager McGraw, they did not have to be told everything by him. They had baseball brains.

Now the Giants that have won the last three National League championships do not stand on their own feet. The club is McGraw. His dominant personality is everything. Throughout the National League campaign practically every play was ordered by McGraw. If for any reason he was unable to be with the club, he left his orders with his lieutenants and they were carried out.

John McGraw John McGraw
It is impossible to exaggerate McGraw's part. From the bench he absolutely directs the game. No play on the offensive is made without him. He even participates in the defensive action, frequently calling Meyers aside and ordering him to shift the position of some player on the field. The men absolutely rely on him. With the exception of a very few veterans, they can not stand on their own feet. They have never had to.

This may suggest that I am indirectly criticizing McGraw. I am not.

"Why, then," the fan may ask, "why didn't McGraw build a team that could stand on its own feet, that didn't need to place such reliance on him?"

The answer is that McGraw was forced to build the Giants the way he did for the very good reason that he would never have won a championship otherwise. With a few exceptions the men are not of championship caliber. We have won the last three National League pennants solely because the club is McGraw, because his baseball brains have directed every game, because he has perfected a system that has kept his hand on the pulse of the game from first inning to last.

Now put this same McGrawized team in a World Series. Weeks before the series opens we begin to go up in the air. The Giants are the greatest "newspaper ball club" I know. Most of the men read everything that is printed about them. In 1912 Devore and Herzog in particular simply ate up the newspaper reports. Nearly everybody on the team devoured the preliminary stories. They began to dream and eat World Series. They couldn't get it off their minds. Every year by the time of the first game almost the entire team has developed a bad case of self-consciousness and nerves.

Let us see what this reaped: As usual, McGraw planned our campaign for the series. As in the National League race, he was there ready to direct every move. If his men had been in the same state of mind as during the pennant races, all would have been different. When working right, the McGraw system of baseball is just as good as any system in the American League. But, stricken with a case of nerves, the system went to pieces. The Giants did not obey orders. They either forgot or else convinced themselves that they knew more than the wonderful little manager who had guided them so long. Not only did they fail to execute McGraw's commands properly, but they became so upset - and I shall present actual cases of this - that they made bull-headed plays that you would never have seen during the regular league campaign.

Just let me briefly relate a few incidents:

Before the first 1913 World Series game in New York, Marquard, as the baseball saying goes, "had everything." I watched him while he warmed up in front of the grand stand. His curves never broke sharper and his speed was terrific. As I watched him, I did not see how the Athletics - heavy hitters tough they were -could beat him. When the game started, however, it was a different Marquard in the pitcher's box. All his curves seemed to have vanished magically. In ten minutes he actually lost the knack of giving the ball the deceptive shoots and spins for which he is noted. After the game Collins said:

Rube Marquard Rube Marquard
"When I faced Marquard, I was surprised to see that he didn't have anything at all on the ball. There wasn't a thing that looked like a curve, and all his straight ones were right over the center of the plate. The other fellows said the same thing."

The case of Marquard is typical of the Giants in a World Series. They go to pieces. They have it in them to rout their rivals, but instead they beat themselves.

I have often heard McGraw say at the start of these World Series games:

"Now remember, don't try to kill the ball."

This may need a word of explanation. There are very few players who can "kill" a ball. It means holding the bat at the extreme end and taking a long, terrific swing. The only "killers" I can mention, offhand, are the late Ed Delehanty, Sherwood Magee, Sam Crawford, and Hans Wagner. Practically every other hitter in the big leagues holds his bat farther up the handle and takes a shorter swing at the ball; few men have "batting eyes" sharp enough to permit their taking such a long swipe at the pitcher's offerings. Nearly all the Giants hammered the National League pitchers because they chopped at the ball. It was our most successful way of attack.

The team goes into a World Series. We face pitching not as good as the pitching we had faced during the pennant race. I have seen the Giants bat effectively against such star pitchers as Hendrix, formerly of Pittsburgh, Seaton, now with the Brooklyn "Feds," and Alexander of Philadelphia, and Rucker of Brooklyn. Yet against the Athletics pitching staff - which, honestly, in 1913 had no man as good as any of the four stars I have mentioned - we seemed helpless. People said we were not a batting team. But we are a batting team. And we should have appeared to be if we had obeyed orders. Instead of heeding McGraw's command, "Now don't try to kill the ball," the Giants would go up to the plate and after the Philadelphia pitcher - Plank, Bender, or Bush - had thrown one ball, the Giants would let their hands slip down to the end of their bats and try to "kill it."

As a result, not being used to this style of hitting, we were all at sea. Solely through overanxiety we ruined an attack that had terrorized National League pitchers.

An incident comes to mind showing how apt the Giants are to go to pieces. In the second game of the 1912 series against Boston, my support caved in. It broke for the reasons I have described. Fletcher, who only a few seasons before had been a lanky youth playing in the Texas League, had fought up to be shortstop of the Giants. I wish to give Fletcher all credit for his ability as a shortstop, for he has shown it again and again. But in his first World Series he became a victim of that disease of the Giants - nerves.

In the first inning, Hooper made a hit off me and stole second base. There was one out. Yerkes, the next batter, lined a ball squarely into Fletcher's hands. Fletcher did not have to move an inch for it. It was a simple play, and when I saw Hooper already halfway to third base I figured on a double play. Fletcher would simply toss the ball to Doyle and the side would be out. But I guess Fletcher was thinking about his responsibility, for he dropped the ball. What should have been an easy double play resulted in both men being safe. Instead of taking the field, Boston subsequently scored in that inning the three runs that cost us the game.

That misplay broke up Fletcher. Thereafter in that game he lost chance after chance, and each error cost us a run. I'm not blaming him. At the time I was not even sore about it. I simply record it as a point showing why the Giants always look bad in a World Series. For some reason they seem to think that they have to stand more on their own, that the hand of McGraw can not aid them as during the regular campaign, and, going ahead on their own hook, they become nervous and blow up.

Before the start of the 1911 series against the Athletics, I took the occasion to investigate the batting methods of my opponents. Only four - Lord, Bender, Murphy, and Davis - had been on the team when I faced them in 1905. I realized that I should be confronted with tricky batters, none of whose secrets I knew. From certain American League players I obtained data about the Philadelphia team. In the first game this was effective. It was doubly effective because I learned they had our signs and were using them. That is to say, they knew how Meyers fixed his hands when he wanted a curve ball or a straight one. When the Athletics got men on the bases they would flash to the batter what was coming.

So I told Meyers to reverse his signs, and in that way we double-crossed them for the first game. Once Baker, who had been tipped off by Oldring that a curve ball was coming, stepped across the plate to meet it. But a fast ball was flying straight at him, and he was nearly "beaned." Subsequently he struck out.

With the second game, though, all this changed. Marquard was pitching and he began to get "World Series nerves." In the sixth inning, after two men were out, Collins smashed a two-base hit to left. He then took only a short lead off second base, for he was trying to discover Meyers's new signals. A hit meant the game. Seeing what Collins was up to, Meyers walked out to the box. He said to Marquard:

Home Run Baker "Home Run" Baker
"No matter what I signal for, you throw Baker two curve balls."

Then, to fool Collins, Meyers gave false signals. With two balls pitched, however, the supply was out, and, not daring to give a signal, Meyers put it up to Marquard. Marquard flashed back that he was going to throw a fast one. Collins knew his sign and flashed the news to Baker. As a result Baker was all set, and when the ball came across the plate he simply swung his bat and it went screaming over the right-field fence. Overanxious in the excitement of that swift moment, Marquard and Meyers forgot that Collins had been spying on our signs and knew what was coming.

That is the authentic inside story of the first home run to make Baker famous.

During the series Devore was so anxious to hit "heavy" that on the way to Philadelphia, when some one introduced him to Ty Cobb, Josh slipped into the seat beside him and talked all the way over.

Josh Devore Ty Cobb
Josh Devore
Ty Cobb
"Gee," said Josh to me, as we were getting off the train, "that fellow Cobb knows a lot about batting. He told me some things about the American League pitchers just now, and he didn't know he was doing it. I never let on. But I just hope that fellow Plank works to-day, if they think that I am weak against left-handers. Say, Matty, I could write a book about that guy and his 'grooves' now, after buzzing Cobb, and the funny thing is, he didn't know he was telling me."

Plank pitched that day and fanned Devore four times out of a possible four. Josh didn't even get a foul off him.

"Thought you knew all about that fellow," I said to Devore after the game.

"I've learned since that Cobb and he are pretty thick," replied Josh, "and I guess Ty was giving me a bad steer."

"It was evident that Cobb's misinformation was working around in Devore's mind when he went to the plate to face Plank, and, instead of being open to impressions, he was constantly trying to confirm these wrong opinions. Plank was crossing him all the time, and, being naturally weak against left-handers, this additional handicap made Devore look foolish.

That helped to send Devore up in the air. Also, the Athletics had heard tales of his baserunning, and when in another game he managed to get on at first, they had it all framed up to catch him. Caught by the "pitch out," he was touched out fully fifteen feet at second. As Eddie Collins threw the ball back to the pitcher he laughed at Devore and said:

"And you call yourself fast! You remind me of a cop on fixed post."

Not only Devore but other members of the Giants were victims of this "goat-getting."

In a subsequent game of that series, we threw away our chance to win simply because of nerves. In the second half of the tenth inning, the score a tie and the Giants needing one run to win the game, Snodgrass was on second base. There was only one out, and Merkle and Herzog were coming up. Put Snodgrass on the bases in a World Series and he acts like a madman. He jumps 'way off the ground and prances about like a dervish. He often takes leads that seem foolhardy. Coombs was pitching for Philadelphia, and Snodgrass, almost breaking through nervousness, was racing for third base at the rise of Coombs's arm, then, if the batter did not hit the ball, ducking back to second. A cool baserunner would simply have taken a good lead and waited his opportunity.

Fred Snodgrass Fred Snodgrass
Well, one of Coombs's curves got away from Lapp, the Philadelphia catcher. At the moment Snodgrass was going the wrong way, that is, he had started back for second base, whereas he should have had his face toward third. The ball meanwhile was rolling away from the Philadelphia catcher. Of course, obeying the cries of the coachers, Snodgrass spun round toward third again and got going. He tried hard for the base but was thrown out. If he had not lost that fraction of a second, through having to turn, because of his nervous prancing up and down the line, he would have reached third safely. As things subsequently developed, with a man on third we should have won the game. As it was we lost.

The usual thing happened. The tension tightened, and good ball-players like Herzog, Merkle, and Fletcher went completely up in the air. The game was kicked away.

Still another incident of that 1911 series shows what I mean when I say the Giants go to pieces and do not play their game. Murray is noted as being one of the best outfielders in the National League. He is unquestionably the most deadly thrower. His heaves to the plate, cutting down runners who try to come in from third, are famous. In the fourth inning of the crucial game in Philadelphia, Murray became so anxious on Thomas's sacrifice fly that he threw the ball twelve feet outside the third-base line and hit the runner. Imagine Murray doing that in any ordinary game!

Imagine Larry Doyle being caught by such a musty trick as this: One of our men hit a high foul ball to Baker. Doyle, who was on first base, broke for second at the crack of the bat. The coacher shouted for him to come back. But Doyle saw Barry, the Philadelphia shortstop, thrust his hands down on the ground as if to stop a ball. Then he saw Collins rushing in to second base yelling "Throw the ball here!" Completely taken in, Doyle charged madly on toward second base. He was sprinting to save himself, as he thought, from being put out on a force-out. Unaware that the ball had been struck into the air, fooled by Barry and Collins, he was an easy double-play victim. And that trick is gray, as Larry will laughingly tell you.

The last game of that 1911 series showed us at our worst. Growing more and more nervous and self-conscious under the tension, we snapped in a way that made us look ridiculous. I was sitting on the bench feeling that we still had a chance if the men would only pull together. Ames was pitching, and with two men on base Barry bunted. Hurrying his throw, Ames was 'way off on his aim, for the ball hit Barry in the head and all the Philadelphia baserunners scampered home.

"Nice head work!" yelled one of those megaphone voices from the depths of the grand stand.

For the first time during the series I laughed. So did all the other men on our bench. With that laugh it was all over. From that moment the Athletics worked everything. They executed fielding plays that seemed impossible; they even worked the squeeze and got away with it. We felt we were jokes.

Better natural players than our men, the Athletics could stand alone no matter how big the crisis. Unlike McGraw, Connie Mack had not been forced to build a team of puppets worked from the bench by a string. The Athletics could stand on their own feet. Mack has long encouraged them to do that. It is part of his managing system. Even at crucial moments of that series he left things entirely in the hands of his own men - this in direct contrast to the Giants. Whenever our fellows went to bat they unconsciously helped the Philadelphia pitcher. In the tenth inning of the next to the last game as one of our infielders went to bat he said to me:

"Well, Matty, if I don't hit this one it means a loss to the boys of about $30,000."

You see, whenever our fellows went to bat they thought of how much was at stake, and they failed. On the bench you get the innermost thoughts of your teammates. During one of the Philadelphia games I was sitting next to an outfielder. A costly error of his had just let in a number of runs. He slid over the bench toward me and confessed with a sickly grin:

"When I booted that one, I said to myself, 'There goes that new auto I was going to buy."

That's the way it went; they all thought of anything but the execution of the play of the moment. They thought instead what it meant in dollars and cents. That has done more to lose us three World's Championships than all the Bakers and Tris Speakers.

As I look back upon the 1912 series, when we lost to the Boston Red Sox, I see it was the same. Pitchers, outfielders, the whole team collapsed under the strain. As I watched the way they played behind Tesreau in the first game, I confess that hidden deep in my mind was a doubt that it would turn out just as it had against Philadelphia the year before. With only a one-run lead, Tesreau was pitching frantically. He was cautioned not to worry. I felt he would beat himself; but the strain of wanting to stay ahead - and there was only that one-run margin to keep him ahead - was too much. Let me show you how this worked out:

In the seventh inning he had faced Stahl and disposed of him. Now after Stahl on the Red Sox batting order came Wagner and Cady. They were both supposed to be very ordinary batsmen. Thinking to save himself so as better to face the top of the Boston batting order that would be up in the next inning, Tesreau did not exert himself. For Wagner and Cady he put the ball over, and let his fielders take care of it. If he hadn't been worrying about holding that one-run lead, and about his strength holding out, he would have pitched as usual against these men. As it was, due to Tesreau's letting up they both got on base. Then came an avalanche of hits from the head of the batting order and the game was lost.

It was also in that game that teamwork - we always lose that in a World's Series - began to go. Once Speaker got a three-base hit because Devore and Snodgrass were each too anxious to catch the ball. Devore could have caught it easily, but Snodgrass felt he must do it and came charging in. As a result nobody got it. It was the old sign of over-anxiety, showing early, that worried me most of all.

In the second game the disintegration spread to the infield. Fletcher, usually reliable, blew up.

In the third game it was Merkle. He began by crossing into Doyle's territory and taking a weak little hit from Yerkes's bat. In this way, first base was left unguarded and Yerkes was safe. Subsequently Gardner drove out a two-base hit, and Yerkes scored.

You see it traces right back to overanxiety in each case. Yerkes should never have been in a position to score; he should have been out, Doyle to Merkle. Besides, Gardner's two-base hit also put the "tying run" on second base. A few minutes later Merkle muffed a ball squarely in his hands, this in the ninth inning of a game.

I am not saying this in a spirit of criticism. I am merely showing how the Giants blow up in a World Series.

It is never dissension that beats the Giants.

Only recently I heard a little story in connection with the Boston series - a story of those dissensions that sometimes do wreak championship nines. The Athletics suffered from it in 1912. After our defeat on the eleventh of October, the Red Sox were confident that another game would end it. No one was more positive than "Smoky Joe" Wood that we would lose. Wood had been given to understand he would pitch the next game. He had beaten us before, and accordingly he gave $500 to a friend and had him bet on Boston to win the next game.

To Wood's chagrin, not he, but O'Brien, was sent to the pitcher's box. Well, McGraw got after O'Brien. He took the third-base coaching-line and Robinson, now manager of Brooklyn, took the first. We all knew O'Brien was inclined to be wild. Back and forth across the diamond the coachers began getting in their work.

"Make him keep his foot on the rubber!" yelled McGraw.

"Get on the bases. He can't pitch without a wind-up," chanted Robinson.

Pretty soon they had O'Brien angry. He was observing the pitching rules and keeping within the bounds prescribed by the rubber plate that marked the pitcher's box. But the yells of the coachers kept up and, finally flustered, O'Brien made a balk and forced in a run. That balk beat him. For with two out, Meyers, Herzog, and Merkle hammered the ball all over the field. The Red Sox lost, and Joe Wood lost his $500.

The sequel comes on a train going to Boston that night. Strolling into a car where O'Brien was sitting, Wood walked up to him and announced:

"Well, you're a fine joke of a pitcher! Put the game on a platter and handed it to the Giants, didn't you?"

O'Brien growled something. Then one thing led to another and an altercation ensued.

This was one of the causes that engendered friction in the Red Sox; and such friction could not help but interfere with the team-work. Reduced efficiency is the inevitable consequence of internal dissension. In fact, next year we saw a world's-champion transformed into a second division team.

I am happy to say there have never of recent years been any such incidents in the ranks of the Giants. Even after that last game in Boston when Snodgrass made his famous "muff," the team did not nurse bitterness about it. As a matter of fact, I blamed Snodgrass and Fletcher for their mix-up and failure to catch Stahl's easy fly over second base in the seventh inning of that game more than I did "Snow" for his muff of Engle's easy ball in the tenth. I also blame Merkle and Meyers for failing to catch Speaker's foul in that same inning far more than I do Snodgrass for his error.

Hans Wagner might have dropped the ball that Snodgrass dropped. Anybody might have erred. But when a minute later Snodgrass came right back and made a really wonderful catch, he made himself solid with me. Snodgrass's error cost the Giants about $30,000. Yet next season they were all pulling for him.

I marvel that the Athletics do not break the way we do. In that last series, Baker was naturally the center of interest. In 1911 he had made two home runs off us. Naturally, everybody expected big things of him again. He must have known that, and how under the circumstances he was able to go out and do these big things over again - make a home run - is surprising. Baker is the greatest climax player of baseball.

The Athletics are what baseball men call "money players." They played that series with the zest of college boys. They seemed to enjoy every minute of it, while the Giants made a labor of it.

I sincerely hope no one will accuse me of poor sportsmanship. I have not squealed; only analyzed the situation from things that I know.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: As we go to press, the Braves have just defeated the Giants three straight games; and Stalling's wonderful combination of pitching, fielding, pinch-hitting, and baseball brains is now only three games below first place. There is a big chance that the Braves, and not the Giants, will meet the Athletics this fall for the World's Championship. If this happens, Matty's views may also help to explain the failure of the Giants to win the National League pennant.]

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